Monday, October 27, 2014

fancy city bitch

There is a mother from Yellowknife sitting in the airplane seats in front of us, explaining to her toddler son where the airplane is flying.

“We’re going to Ottawa! There’s a Costco there and we are going to go shopping there.”

“What’s a Costco?” asked the small child.

“It’s a magical store where they have lots of things.”

“What kind of things?”

The mother explained. “Some of the things we have here, but it’s bigger! Like a candy bar.  Candy bars are this big in Yellowknife, but at the Costco in Ottawa, it’s THIS big. Everything is bigger at Costco!”

“Even us?”

“No, we stay the same. But the things are bigger!”

“How about my shoes?”

“Well, your shoes also stay the same size. But there will be a lot of them!”

I always write more when I travel away from home. I’m finding now that I am writing more when I leave Cambridge Bay, which I guess means I’m starting to really think of Nunavut as home and Ottawa as this place I visit.

Still, I have my routine whenever I return to Ottawa. Clean myself up so I look like a proper lady, not this bear that’s emerged from the Arctic wilderness. Wear real pants. Trim the cuticles, hack off the hair (including body hair).

The hair dresser and my manicurist are all talking about the new shopping outlet that just opened up in Kanata. The Tanger Outlet Centre was opened up to divert some of the shoppers that make the trek down to New York every year for some serious shopping.  As I am getting my hair done, my family is trying to make their way to the shopping outlets, on its opening day, navigating through packed crowds, fighting for a parking spot, waiting in line to get the coupon book, to get into the stores, to pay for their purchases, to get the free tote.  It’s too much people for me, more people than we ever see up north.  For me, part of the reason why I’m down here is to do a performance at a zine launch, to sing a song I wrote about how they paved over my childhood stomping grounds and turned it into a shopping centre.

Back at the spa, my pedicurist is traumatized by my hairy legs. It’s a forest down there.  I told you, I have turned into a bear. We hold on to every bit of warmth that we can up there in the north, including body hair.

“You want me to wax upper rip?” she asks me through her thick Asian accent.

“No…no….I think I’m okay,” I murmur vaguely, startled to hear about my mustache.

“But is so hairy! It take only one minute.”

“I’ll…think about it….”

By the time the hair dresser, my Vietnamese nail spa ladies, and my makeup artist is through with me, I’m looking like a fancy city bitch.  I’m feeling like a fancy city bitch. Time to go live up Ottawa.

We are staying at the Fairmount Chateau Laurier to attend a wedding that is being held there.  The hotel has an old but classic feel to it. It’s kind of fun to pretend we’re rich. The hotel staff greets us by name, because they’ve memorized it.  We ask them to send out our stuff for dry-cleaning. We ask them to bring up safety pins for no reason.  It’s comfortable, and tempting to stay nestled in our hotel room, eating Asian food takeout and watching Little Nicky for the second time on TV rather than go downstairs to the reception. But we do eventually make it down and have a great time.

The morning after, we decide to try out brunch at the Chateau Laurier. It’s kind of awkward, stumbling into this luxurious place wearing sweat pants and a wrinkled t-shirt, smelling like a hangover. The waiter offers you a wine list.  “For breakfast?” you ask in surprise before you can think. You consider it briefly, and then your liver punches you from the inside, having suffered enough abuse from the night before. 

Anthony Bourdain hates brunches, but I love the freedom to grab whatever you want and pile them in a disordered chaos on your plate, doing things all wrong. The cooks behind the serving dishes are friendly and helpfully tell me the names of all the French dishes available – for breakfast – names that I immediately forget.  Roast beef for breakfast. Real orange juice, something we haven’t had since we pretty much went up to Nunavut.

The next day, I have the opportunity to have lunch at the Parliamentary dining room on Parliament Hill. It’s a very exclusive dining room, where only Members of Parliament, Senators, Supreme Court and federal judges, and a select few other federal figures and their guests could dine.  The dining room on the upper floor, past the mysterious Spouses Lounge, in a beautiful large room with domed ceilings, brightly lit with natural looking light, with smaller private sections leading off to the sides, each section named after a different province or territory.

For a starter, I eat a kale salad with warmed breaded goat cheese. I think about how hard it is to bring kale up north, and how I’ve been trying to grow a little bit of kale in my arctic indoor garden for weeks.  As my main course, I have something that the kitchen refers to as lamb lollipops served with fried gnocci, and fresh fruit with sorbet for dessert. The sorbet is a little too frozen, and I dig my spoon into it deeper – and promptly send it flying across the room and on to the carpet on the floor.  Luckily the carpet is the same colour as the sorbet, so I hope that nobody notices it until I am gone.

Clearly I only carry the illusion of a fancy city bitch, and not very well.

Now that all this fancy city bitching has gone to my head, I spend the afternoon at Le Nordik Spa in Chelsea, Quebec.  I know that many cities have their own version of a luxruy spa with a complex water circuit of hot tubs, saunas, and steam rooms. But Le Nordik is something particularly unique: many of the pools are located outside, nestled in the beautiful woods of the Parc Gatineau.  This means that you can soak in a hot tub while watching the changing fall leaves – and we all know Parc Gatineau is one of the best places in this region for this. Or you can lounge in an infinity pool that overlooks a breathtaking view of the forest valley.  And when you somehow get tired of that, you can slip inside one of the huts to sit in quiet contemplation in a eucalyptus-scented steam room, or a cosy hammock carefully hung by a wood-fire stove.

There is really nothing like it. I wonder if we can install something like this in the office. By the time I’m finished, I’m so blissed out I almost don’t care about the hour stuck in rush hour traffic in the rush to go home and eat dinner.

And then the next day, I get a relaxing massage at a lovely spa located inside an old converted stone church.

I love living in Nunavut. I love our proximity to the wilderness, the simplicity of my life, and the beautiful views.  But I certainly don’t mind a little luxury when we go out.

Monday, October 20, 2014

trying to go on vacation

I needed to go on vacation. I have been having a month. A busy month where I for some reason decided to release a new full length album with my band, write an in-depth investigative newspaper feature, try to lose some weight all while working on a bunch of files at work. I was tired, burning out even. I needed to go on my vacation. It wasn’t even a fancy or exotic vacation; just a week in Ottawa, in time for a wedding, to spend a few days relaxing and unwinding.

But of course there were the flights.

Who actually loves flying? I don’t. I’m not a nervous flyer – I’ve sat through mechanical failures while mid-air and apparently was quite prepared to meet my end. No, instead, I may be an angry flyer.  Tired of waiting. Tired of sitting. Tired of things going wrong.

Because so many things could go wrong. In the weeks leading up to our vacation, I scanned the news anxiously to follow the developments of the labour dispute that Air North was having with its flight attendants. At first, the flight attendants weren’t serving alcohol or food on the flights. Then they were showing up in t-shirts and being sent up.  Would the situation escalate to cancelled flights?

Luckily, the parties were able to struck a deal, and I heaved a sigh of relief. Prematurely, apparently.

Before I even left the office to pick up my bags and get to the airport, I received a call. The plane we were supposed to board was experiencing mechanical difficulties and was delayed. I knew what that could mean. “Delayed” could easily mean “cancelled”. Canadian North would automatically re-book us to the next trip, which would be the next day, but by then we would have missed our connecting Air North flight.  I called First Air, the other airline, to find out if they had any flights that would be leaving later that day, in case our Canadian North flight never came in. Yes, the First Air lady told me, there was a flight that evening.  But that plane was experiencing mechanical difficulties and was also delayed….

At this point, as a precaution, I called my insurance company to find out if they would compensate us for a missed flight, and I had to purchase a new plane ticket that would probably cost us $1000 each.  Unfortunately, the insurance representative on the phone was a rude gentleman who belongs working at the back of a McDonalds restaurant making French fries far away from customers, rather than dealing with real live people on the phone. He kept insisting that I might incur charges if I cancelled my flight.  I tried to explain to him that I was not inquiring about cancelling my flight, but rather the possibility that the airline might cancel the flight, but this concept was too much for his Neanderthal mind and he continued to rudely ask my why I kept asking him questions.

He did point out, however, quite correctly that the policy date for my insurance had the wrong start date, so I might not be covered after all. No, I couldn’t change the date.

Thanks for the great customer service.

Thankfully our flight was delayed but not cancelled, and we made it to Yellowknife that evening. I treated myself to a cold pint at the bar of the Explorer Hotel, hugely relieved that we had made it out and now my vacation could start.

Kugluktuk airport

But then there was the second flight to go through.

The person I was having drinks with casually mentioned that she knew someone who would be going on the same Yellowknife to Ottawa flight on Air North the next day, at five o’clock. “Five o’clock?” I said. “But my flight is at eleven. Could there possibly be two different flights?” But of course there wasn’t . This flight only went out twice a week.

No, instead,  as I found out when I called Air North first thing the next morning, it turns out that Air North had changed both of my flights, to Ottawa and back, and just “forgot” to tell me.  Having our flight moved back five hours wasn’t a terrible issue, other than the fact that I was dragging my poor parents out to the airport at midnight to pick me up .  The problem was that on the way back, they had changed the date of our return flight so that we would be missing our connecting flight with Canadian North  from Yellowknife to Cambridge Bay.

I told Air North this, and they said, “Oh no!” And that was it.

I called Canadian North and they said, “You booked these flights with Aeroplan. You’re going to have to go through them. NOT MY PROBLEM, BIATCH.” ß-they didn’t actually say that.

I called Aeroplan and they said, “Sorry there are no more Aeroplan seats left for the next day.” Ugh.  What about two days later? I suppose we could spend an extra night in Yellowknife. “Yes, there are seats available left for that day,” they responded.

I called the insurance company again, luckily I didn’t get Mr. Deep Fryer again. I explained my situation and they agreed that the best plan would be just to book the next available Aeroplan seats for two days later, and I could file a claim with the insurance company. Oh well.

Then I called Aeroplan back to book the seats, and they said, “Sorry, there are no more seats available for that date.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m talking about two days later,” I corrected them.

“There are no seats left for two days later either.”

WHAT. But I just called half an hour ago to check.

“Well, they’re gone now. We do have seats available for a week later.”

For a moment I fantasized about taking another week off work and extending my vacation.  But no, I knew that the pile on my office desk would just grow.

I hung up on Aeroplan and called Canadian North. “How much would it cost to buy airplane tickets for flights on the next day?” I asked them,

Two thousand dollars, they answered sweetly.

I called the insurance company again, a phone number that I was starting to memorize. “I’m screwed,” I basically told them.

“You gotta do what you gotta do,” said Not-Mr. Deep Fryer.  Thanks, I wish you had my back yesterday too.

So I booked it.  I had spent the entire first morning of my vacation arguing on the phone, which is more or less what I do for a living with my day job. Heck, why not also check my work email and send out a few court documents as well?

This vacation wasn’t very relaxing.

It’s okay though. Once I had rescheduled the flights and the hotels and whatever else had to be done, I walked into an art gallery and proceeded to buy almost the entire supply of WOOLLY FREAKING MAMMOTH IVORY that the store had in stock. Because apparently you can do that. Because retail therapy is soothing to me, but not, like, shopping for handbags or shoes, but more precisely buying quantities of fossils made from extinct animals.  Also, a necklace made from a shotgun shell.

I continued to force myself to unwind with a latte at the local coffee shop Javaroma. Then I went for the better relaxation option, which was a scotch at the local pub The Black Knight, which turned out to be $16 because apparently booze in Yellowknife can be expensive.

As I waited to board my final plane to Ottawa, I thought to myself, THIS IS SO NOT PUNK ROCK. There is nothing cool or bad ass about spending the day discussing “insurance expense claims” or “sixteen dollar fourteen-year-old single malt scotch” or coffee shop lattes. It’s just so horribly grownup and boring, and not a vacation thing.  There was, however, something slightly rock and roll about extinct mastodon ivory though.  And shotgun shell necklaces.

At any rate, I was out. Let the vacation begin. 

 view from the Kugluktuk airport

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

fall's frost

Cambridge Bay is looking pretty frosty these days! This is what the Arctic ocean looks like right now.  We are still waiting for a barge ship to come in to bring our yearly supplies, so it'll be interesting to see the ship make its way in to a frozen bay. My understanding is that the Coast Guard will send its ice breaker ship ahead to lead the way.

The frost, snow and ice all make for very beautiful scenery, however.

Monday, October 13, 2014

another Thanksgiving in Cambridge Bay

Happy Thanksgiving from Cambridge Bay!

On this holiday, my friends know that I am fond of repeating the old story about how the first Canadian Thanksgiving (or, as Canadians call it, regular Thanksgiving) was about the explorer Martin Frobisher celebrating his survival of the journey to Baffin Island, and how fitting it is for all of us to be able to celebrate not dying in Nunavut.

As it turns out, Canadian Thanksgiving was actually started by a bunch of Christian lobbyists getting together and deciding to have a holiday that is really different from the Americans, but ended up becoming a lot like the Americans. Which is kind of how Canadian traditions often go. And yet we still like to maintain that it is so much better than the American holiday, and at the very least, Columbus Day.

As if someone knew the true story behind Canadian Thanksgiving, a Jehovah's Witness Bible was left on my bed during Thanksgiving Dinner. Was it...a Christian lobbyist?

Thanksgiving in Nunavut is always particularly special too. Many of us can't afford the thousands of dollars and multiple days of travel that is required to go home for Thanksgiving weekend, so we often celebrate Thanksgiving dinner with the "families" that we have formed here in the northern communities, our friends who have helped us create wonderful memories through the blissfully beautiful Arctic summers and help cheer us up through the long harsh winters.

And it also means finding ways to celebrate it within the limitations of Nunavut. For example, if you want to do a traditional turkey dinner, it means all of your food is going to be shipped in from somewhere else.  I know that the components of a traditional turkey dinner (turkey, pumpkins, corn, etc.) are specifically chosen because they are the harvest produce that is available during that time of year, but not in Nunavut.  Really, bananas and mangos are just as "fresh" and "in season" as pumpkins over here.

Having the ingredients for your Thanksgiving dinner shipped by plane also means that if you have several days of snowstorms in the week before the dinner, then you're going to have some slim pickings at the grocery store. And even if they are there, it's going to be at northern prices - like pie fillings for $10 a can.  And the alcohol you ordered by plane through your liquor permit might not get there in time.

It also means that if you ordered a turducken - because WHAT BETTER TIME IS THERE FOR TURDUCKEN THAN THANKSGIVING -  it might not actually arrive by Thanksgiving.  My suggestion was to DIY - do it yourself.  Stuff a chicken into a duck into a turkey. Does the Northern grocery store not have any duck? Why not substitute it with a classic Nunavut twist - TurKlikEn? Turkey + Klik + Chicken?

In the end we went with an old fashioned turkey. And it was delicious.  Despite the fact that we ran out of running water for a good chunk of the day. We live in the North, and we make do.

If you don't have any Thanksgiving decorations, happy birthday balloons will do just fine.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

house show

my band Scary Bear Soundtrack put on a house show this weekend to celebrate the release of our new album. Here's a video of us performing one of our new songs, Fault Lines:

 (if you like this song, you should vote for it for CBC Music's Rock Your Campus contest here! You can vote once a day, every day)

Monday, October 6, 2014

the view from my house

I didn't have a car when I went grocery shopping this week, so I pulled my groceries home by sled. I guess we've reached that part of the season now.


the arctic ocean, freezing up

Sometimes I walk into my kitchen and then I see a kite fly by my window. It's one of the guys in town, skiing across the ice in the bay while being pulled across by kite. That's the kind of stuff that I see from my living room window.

I also see gorgeous sunrises from my living room window

I may have mentioned last week that there were some polar bears hanging around town. It seems like  my neighbour may have found them after all.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

life in photos

Hey! I'm still here. I have been busy writing other things (like this article on Iqaluit Pride!) and also, randomly enough, a couple of remixes. Mainly, though, I've been enjoying life in Cambridge Bay.

There was a fire at the dump this week. Nothing to the level of Dumpcano, and it was probably intentional. Still, it filled the air with smoke, garbage smoke, and you could smell it all over town. Luckily, the next day it was gone.

There's a polar bear hanging around just outside of town this week. He just seems to be hanging out around the cabins. I don't have any photos of him because I am too scared to go out looking for him.  But other people have seen him. Somebody in town asked, if the bear attacks, can I shoot the bear? YOLO, someone replied. Stand your ground.

It's interesting. I was reading a fascinating journal article discussing the polar bear as a metaphor for the traditional gender ambiguity that was prevalent in historical Inuit culture.  And then this polar bear appeared. So, maybe it means something.

Today, I managed to catch the sunrise and the sunset.

sunrise, over a frozen arctic ocean

sunset, over a developing tundra

However, this photo wins as the most Nunavut photo. All-terrain vehicle. Truck. Husky dog. Beautiful sunrise over a frozen ocean.